The wacky unwritten rules of sports by Frank Rocha

The wacky unwritten rules of sports 

By Frank Rocha

Every professional sports rule book will have guidelines that athletes and coaches must follow. However, there are the wacky unwritten rules of sports that pro-athletes from various eras recognize to be downright laughable, and fans seem to find head-scratching, to say the least. From the MLB to the NBA, there are more rules to abide by than some may even be aware. 


The MLB might have the most unwritten rules in a sport, some of which have been implemented since 1903. The punishments are mostly carried out by the head manager of said team. Here are a few: never rub the area where you get hit by a pitch. It is a way of showing off you and your team's “machismo,” or masculine pride. Don't forget to avoid walking in front of the catcher or umpire before coming up to the plate. Chances are you will have a baseball coming at your body at your next at-bat. Never bunt during a no-hitter, as it damages the opposing pitcher and team’s record. Not only helping the other team win the game, but also makes your own team look foolish. Strange why the opposing team will help an individual player obtain a feat that is supposed to be rare and difficult to achieve, helping obtain the coveted no-hitter. 

All MLB players are warned that there is only one king of the rock. Do not dare step on the pitcher’s mound at any time or you’re seeing a 90-mph fastball coming at you on your next plate appearance. The moves to retaliate against another team can even come from a manager, who might ask their own players to hit the opposing batter. Former Minnesota Twin, pitcher Phil Hughes, said on the Pardon My Take Podcast he was told to hit Toronto Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson, by a Twins hitting coach. “He came up to me and said next you gotta hit this guy. I didn't do it. I missed twice,” Hughes said. Managers will punish any player stepping out of line and call them out in public for breaking the unwritten rules. For example, punishing a player for hitting a home run after being up by a large number of runs limits a teams own players from playing the game to their fullest ability, simultaneously deflating the excitement of the game. A manager apologizing to the opposing team for their own player “breaking” the unwritten rule of baseball might be considered a slap in the face to their own team. 

Recently, Tony La Russa, Head Manager for the Chicago White Sox, did just that. Hall of Fame Manager, La Russa, came out of retirement after 10 years in hopes to lead the White Sox to a potential postseason run. La Russa publicly stated that he would punish White Sox catcher, Yermin Mercedes, for hitting a home run when the team was up by eleven runs on a 3-0 count against the Minnesota Twins in May. 

Mercedes broke two unwritten rules with one at bat by swinging when up on the count 3-0 and hitting a home run leading by a healthy amount of runs. This agitated La Russa and made him say he was screaming for Mercedes to not swing from the dugout. But with replay of the situation, there is no audible sound of La Russa telling Mercedes to hold back at the plate.  

“He made a mistake. There has to be a consequence to endure here, within our family. I apologized to the other team,” La Russa said. After the game, La Russa even teased that he would punish Mercedes by spanking him, “but he was too big.” Oddly, the manager related an old method of punishment, which is frowned upon today as something unacceptable for the notable 28-year-old rookie. 

After the game, Mercedes had some comments for his coach's decision to abide by an unwritten rule in baseball. “I'm going to play like that. I’m Yermin. I can’t be another person because if I do that, everything changes,” Mercedes said. Both comments from Mercedes and La Russa made fellow White Sox players make a decision on who to follow into the new era of baseball or lead into a new era with old ideas and nonsensical rules holding back the game. 

Fellow White Sox teammates pitcher, Lance Lynn and shortstop Tim Anderson, backed Mercedes on Twitter against their own manager, finding the unwritten rules should no longer be applicable to the game, asking Mercedes to play on regardless of what La Russa says.

Ryan McGuffey on Twitter: "Lance Lynn on unwritten rules: "If a …

S E V E N on Twitter: "don't see and don't hear... keep pushing💯"

A similar story to last year’s outcry by Hall-of-Famer, 14-time All-Star, 5-time World Series Champion, fourteenth on the all time home runs with 563, “Mr. October,” Reggie Jackson, and all of baseball regarding young MLB star Fernando Tatis Jr.  on Twitter, punished and called out by his own manager for not taking the pitch and hitting a home run after being up by seven runs. The support of the athletes to call out these coaches will improve the sport with more conversations and discussions about the pointless unwritten rules. 

Reggie Jackson on Twitter: "Fernando Tatis keep playing hard and …

Collin McHugh on Twitter: "Swinging in a 3-0 count should not be …

Eduardo Rodriguez on Twitter: "3-0 counts rule you just have to pitch …

Trevor “IamTrevorMay” May on Twitter: "This “unwritten rule ...


The NBA has some similarities in their odd unwritten rules, similar  to the MLB. Both professional sports have an unwritten mercy rule between both teams, a tradition to allow the other team to throw in the proverbial towel. An NBA team has the chance to accept the loss, ease the enduring pain of an opponent by asking for a plea of mercy and hoping for an opponent to accept the defeat.

“In a blow-out when the other team throws the towel in, you gotta respect that,” NBA Champion, NBA Hall-of-Famer power forward Kevin Garnett, stated on his Area 21 show on NBA on TNT. 

The act of mercy does carry out through other sports like the NBA and could possibly limit talent on a roster because of a traditional act of pity. The unwritten rules are carried out by the players, and some instances by coaches. Seeing a player accidently score the basketball in their own basket does happen. But when it’s done intentionally, it breaks the unwritten rule of the NBA. In 2003, Cleveland Cavalier Small Forward Ricky Davis wanted a triple-double, so he attempted to obtain a rebound by throwing the basketball off of his own basket. Opposing Head Coach, Jerry Sloan of the Utah Jazz, was livid with Davis after the game and agreed with his player, Shooting Guard, DeShawn Stevenson in his decision to hard-foul Davis after the failed attempt to obtain a triple-double. “I would’ve knocked his ass down. I’m glad DeShawn tried to knock him down. They can put me in jail or whatever they want for saying that but, that’s the way it is,” Sloan said.  

There are not only rules on the NBA court, but the unwritten rules in the NBA locker room which are just as important. A player cannot walk from the shower to the locker room without a piece of clothing at the risk of being embarrassed on social media by a fellow teammate. It doesn't seem like something to forget if you're a rookie in the league. Rules carried out by fellow players or coaches can be seen as simple hazing, like having rookie Draymond Green in 2012 host a dance party mimicking the dance to Psy’s “Gangnam Style” or Phoenix Suns, Kendall Marshall having to wear a Justin Beiber backpack throughout his rookie season. 

Unlike the MLB or the NBA, the NFL has unwritten rules that are held and carried out by the players themselves, to be more specific, the veterans. Every rookie is seen, but not heard in the league. Rookies are told, not asked, to keep quiet unless a veteran gives them permission. This military-styled hierarchy and collegiate way of hazing derives from tradition within that team and also from spite, “Veterans don’t like rookies, because they will replace veterans,” said ex-NFL safety Matt Bowen. The disdain for rookies is met with backlash. Some athletes like wide receiver, Dez Bryant stood up to the hazing, “I'm not doing it. I feel like I was drafted to play football, not carry another player's pads,” Bryant stated.

With the likes of Bryant or Mercedes sticking up for themselves to Head Managers or veterans in the league, demonstrates a shift in the unwritten rules carried out today. Players have a platform to say what they feel or think. Professional sports are learning that once accepted traditions quickly become obsolete and would seem absurd to remain adherent to these unwritten rules.

While some of these crazy, under-the-table rules of sport push the limit, they will continue to be seen as outdated by the athletes of today and yesteryear. Questioning the unwritten rules of sports by names like Reggie Jackson, Dez Bryant, and Jerry Sloan put these oddball unwritten rules into the spotlight. Stating their own opinions about the subject and carrying out actions will support a collective change. For right now, pro-sports will be using the same methods of hazing and gatekeeping of what is right and wrong. But athletes and fans are looking to change once-accepted rituals and outdated methods to produce more excitement to professional sports. The present shouldn't outpace pro-sports, but evolve it to something more.